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The County 5's New Rules: County Attorney's First Public Foray Goes Back to the Drawing Board

Posted February 20, 2015  10:59 am | 1 comment

County Attorney Joel Foreman presented his (the County's) new Rules of Procedure. From the back of the room the PowerPoint was barely visible. Zoomed in it was still an issue.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The fruits of a month of backroom maneuvering and unknown meetings came to a head last night. Newly elected and Florida's only publicly-elected County Attorney, Joel Foreman's Rules of Procedure were presented to the public at last night's meeting of the County 5. Mr. Foreman's new rules spent approximately 62% of their substance controlling, throttling, or restricting the public that elected him to represent the County Commission (The 5).

County Attorney Foreman had taken ownership of County 5's new rules in the local print media, as well as in an email to the Observer.

Rule Change Number One

The wrong size font and red ink made the rules very tough to see except for those in the first few rows.

Mr. Foreman's new rules called for all public speakers to come to the microphone and give their name and address to the Clerk over the PA system. Your reporter, who has been complaining about this since the 4 year reign of terror during the term of County Commissioner Jody DuPree (Mr. Foreman was Commissioner DuPree's personal attorney) told The 5 last night that this was the last time he was going to put his street address on a sign-in card, although he would fill out the rest of the information, which was required by Senate Bill 50, requiring Boards to hear speakers and that speakers give their name.

The give-your-address rule would have precluded any law enforcement officer, judge, and many public officials from addressing The 5, unless they chose to give up the confidentially of their home addresses, which are generally legally exempt from public records requests and/or disclosure.

Via email, your reporter asked Attorney Foreman, "What authority are you claiming that requires a speaker to announce and provide his/her street and complete address when addressing the County Commission?"

Mr. Foreman's response: The County has express rulemaking authority provided by FS Ch.125

County Attorney Foreman presents his rules.

Ralph Kitchens addressed the County 5, "I live and vote in Columbia County. I am not crazy about announcing my address. If anyone wants to present an issue before the Board they should be able to do so without giving out exactly where they live."

Sandra Buck-Camp addressed the County 5, "When I became a widow my house was vandalized. My house was broken into. Many things were stolen. For this reason I don't want to have to give my address. I don't think we need to present it in a public forum. If someone really wants to find you they will."

After the meeting Ms. Camp told the Observer, "I forgot to mention to them that in today's world women in general shouldn't be forced to announce where they live."

Richard Heston addressed The 5. He mentioned that while he knew his commissioner, there were some folks that did not know theirs and told The 5 that a person should mention their county commissioner when identifying themselves. Mr. Heston told The 5, "We've had people come from other counties for the wrong reasons."

Public Comment:
The Columbia County Bugaboo

After 2006, your reporter came on the scene and public comment became an issue at County Commission meetings. Unable and not used to handling tough questions The 5 began digging in, with the then County Commissioner Elizabeth Porter and now Florida State Representative Porter referring to the public as the "enflamed masses."

Ms. Porter was followed for a short time by the Governor appointed Bill Whitely, who turned out to be a total disaster when it came to taking any kind of heat.

In 2008, District 3 elected Jody DuPree as its commissioner, and thus began a reign of terror than many have said just about destroyed the county government. Things were so bad that folks stopped coming to county commission meetings. One constitutional officer said he went to the Ethics Commission twice and a general insanity shrouded The 5 which resulted in Commissioner Williams challenging your reporter to a fight and a law suit in federal court.

County Attorney Joel Foreman was Commissioner DuPree's attorney.

In 2012, Commissioner DuPree's then business partner, Bucky Nash, prevailed in a primary battle against Mr. DuPree and was elected to represent District 3.

Mr. Nash ran on a platform of giving the public all the time it needed to speak and became a proponent of SB50 and the Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged implementation of its policy of allowing the public to comment for up to 5 minutes after the Commission finished its debate on an agenda item.

Mr. Foreman said, "The note I made will require a person to mention their county district or city of residence."

That was agreeable to everyone. 

Foreman's 2 Minute Rule

The rules presented to The 5 last night throttled public participation in the debate to two minutes.

Commissioner Ronald Williams defended the five minutes and told the board that restricting the public to two minutes was just too short of a time.

Before last night's meeting Commissioner Nash told your reporter that he was in favor of the Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged (CTD) policy and would bring it up.

The CTD rule was designed to embody the spirit of Senator Joe Negron’s Senate Bill 50, giving the public the right to speak 5 minutes on each agenda item after it came up, was discussed by the Commission, but before the Commission voted.

About an hour later, Commissioner Nash backed off and changed his mind regarding the CTD 5 minute rule. He did vote to increase public comment time to a total of 5 minutes, ultimately telling the public that The 5 is doing a great job and the County Chairs do a great job and that current chairman Rusty DePratter will do a great job.

Tossing the Public

Mr. Foreman's new rules regarding tossing the public out of meetings were so problematic that The 5 just tossed them.


The County 5 and the public will get another bite of the apple when Mr. Foreman's "revised" rules come back for approval at the next meeting.

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On Feb. 22, Richard Todd of Lake City wrote:

To The 5:

I believe that Florida is a "Sunshine State" (this has the nothing to do with how bright the sun is during the day), which IMHO means that any meeting of a Governing Body is to be conducted in an open, Public Forum where the public has a right to speak and present their thoughts on the Subject at hand.

At the meetings I have attended, I have seen and heard members of "The 5" interrupt a speaker's five minutes with some question that could wait until the speaker concludes his/her comments. At the last meeting I attended I was interrupted twice, cutting my comments short.

I also find it hard to believe that any group can be unanimous in their voting or a proposed subject 100% of the time with no one dissenting. This to me smacks of the subject being discussed in a private meeting before the open ones, and being approved before the Public hears of it and then presenting a Dog and Pony Show: reenacting the presenting, discussion and voting on the subject.

The new helm of the meetings wanted new rules. He should make them to give the public a fair chance to present its thoughts and wishes on the topics as they come up for discussion.

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.


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